The 2017 Frankfurt Motor Showed offered a very specific ethos this year: electric and self-driving cars.
Many automakers used the bright lights and gleaming stands to reveal their interpretation of a future with all-electric and driverless vehicles.
Audi was not absent from the theme.
The German luxury brand debuted two e-tron electric-car concepts, the Audi Aicon and Audi Elaine.
Both are battery-electric vehicles, though they differ in self-driving technology. The Aicon is a fully-autonomous level 5 vehicle, while the Elaine resides at level 4 on the self-driving car scale.
The scale measures to a maximum of 5, which means the Aicon is a true hands-off driverless car where occupants need not be involved with driving at all and can do anything, including sleeping.
There are no pedals, no steering wheel, or other familiar driver controls in the Audi Aicon, which the brand says “shows the world of tomorrow.”
Without the need for a driver, the cockpit follows a design motif seen in other self-driving cars: a lounge-like cabin with two single-person seats (or chairs) and a bench seat (or couch?).
The front seats rotate to allow passengers to converse with those behind them.
As for the electric powertrain, Audi claims the Aicon boasts 348 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque from four electric motors.
The maximum range is given as 500 miles on a single charge, and the battery pack of undisclosed capacity can be recharged to 80 percent in 30 minutes via an 800-volt charging system.
While the Aicon looks further into the future, the Audi Elaine concept is more “here and now.”
The Elaine is clearly using an adaptation of the Audi e-tron Sportback’s production body, which the brand has confirmed for a 2019 production date.
The brand also provided much more context for the Elaine concept, including its level 4 self-driving capabilities.
The onboard Highway Pilot system is capable of taking control of all human-driver functions between speeds of 37 and 80 mph, which makes it an expansion of Audi’s current Traffic Jam Assistant in the 2019 A8.
The level 4 system is capable of passing other vehicles, changing lanes, and all other normal functions needed to drive safely at higher speeds.
The driver may also retake control at any time during Highway Pilot operation—but will still have to be in driving position, at the wheel, and ready to retake control if required.
Elaine’s electric powertrain features three electric motors, a setup Audi believes will become common moving forward.
One electric motor sits on the front axle, and two sit at each corner of the Elaine’s rear.
The electric powertrain provides up to 496 hp in a boost mode but produces 420 hp otherwise.
Power comes from a 95-kilowatt-hour battery, which gives the Elaine 311 miles of range, and the concept car can be charged wirelessly or via a 150-kilowatt fast charging system that the company will launch next year on its first e-tron Quattro electric SUV.
Additional futuristic tech includes an “AI Zone” that drivers can navigate to, after which the Elaine can drive itself to get a car wash or recharge its battery while the owner goes about other tasks.
An intelligent personal assistant program is also onboard that continues to learn the driver’s preferences throughout the period of ownership.
Information the system may gather include the driver’s favorite morning radio stations and preferred climate temperatures inside the cabin.